Confronting without Confrontation
Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation
This post is a precursor to a forthcoming post titled, Amateur Hour, Online Restaurant Reviews, that will include suggestions for restaurateurs and reviewers, especially anonymous reviewers. Some of your comments following this post will be quoted in the future piece.
Roy Binbuffalony, a Server Not Servant facebook group member, recently sent me a link to a story by ‘queenseyes’ on BUFFALO RISING, a website covering everything happening in and around Buffalo, NY. The piece, titled, Surprising Buffalo: Mike A’s, highlights a relatively new restaurant by renowned Buffalo restaurateur, Mike Andrzejewski. The piece includes quotes from travel writer, Steve Jermanok:
“Dinner was exceptional, probably one of the best meals I had since dining at the acclaimed Next in Chicago last summer. Mike Andrzejewski is one of the city’s best loved chefs and he finally has a high-end restaurant that matches his talent. One taste of his wagyu beef tartare, spiced with pine nuts, capers, watercress, red onions, olive oil, truffled Dijon mustard, and egg yolk, and you realize this dude’s destined for a James Beard award.”
Posted by anonymousOOO on August 7, 2012 PM:
A disappointment from one of WNY’s [Western New York] seasoned restaurant owners, & we never even made it to review the food! Our issues started with the lack of a sign for the restaurant/dining room, and some confusion between where to check-in, in relation to the location of the bar. (Note: it is a restaurant bar, not an open late hotel lobby bar.) A cheap curtain between the kitchen and the dining room, was our first red flag, far from five-star. The drink menu was impressive, and the specialty drinks even came with an old fashion single large ice cube, like Vera Pizzeria also does (nice touch). The odor of old and new in the place mixed together, interestingly. We especially liked chandelier lights in the bar area, but they totally missed with carrying the noir lights also into the dining room. (Cheap Home Depot spotlights throughout the entire dining room.) We then made our way into the loud echoing dining room, with beautiful high ceilings, which unfortunately only exacerbated the high noise level. There were nice mosaics throughout, and the unshaded windows provide a nice view of the library. We then had issue with the overzealous waiter trying to give us each 4 pieces of bread (another amateur mistake). Then after an expected deep dive into the menu, there was a lack of any specials menu. Now this is something that isn’t necessarily mandatory, but expected by many (another miss). Then came a whipped cream radish teaser thingy (another fail). We placed our orders and promptly received some overcooked scallops, and romaine wedge salad (didn’t know that a WEDGE came from Romaine- not what we expected) with a nice bottle of mildly priced pinot noir was ordered. Our wine arrived and the waiter then spilled our bottle of red wine all over me!!!, which promptly and effectively ruined any chance of any further review, EPIC FAIL! Given the above we cannot recommend this restaurant. This place has only been open a few weeks, but we expected so much more. [sic]
Response from Chef/Owner Mike Andrzejewski on August 9, 2012 4:43 PM:
RESPONSE to ANONYMOUs000 Hello Christopher Hawkins of HSBC bank aka Anonymous000, Lets tell the readers the whole story here- and Why you are angry , you classless pig. Mr. Hawkins showed up at the Lafayette hotel last weekend claiming he had a reservation under another name. Our hostess who behaved as professionally as possible to accommodated him and tolerate his obviously intoxicated ,agitated and aggressive behavior moved their table twice to satisfy his demands. The server was as tolerant as possible while Mr. Hawkins bantered and stammered, and the table ordered a bottle of wine and the rest of the savory portion of the meal. After eating the appetizers AND finishing the wine Mr. Hawkins purposely knocked over the empty bottle in a childish display of bad acting, blaming it on the waiter startling him. (This was witnessed and verified by other guests around him in the dining room.) Again making a scene he instructed the other guests to retrieve the car from the valet and he would “take care of the check”. when the manager went to print the check Hawkins then sprinted out the door and left without paying his bill, and worse stiffing the server whom he abused through his service. BUT WAIT – Hawkins then went to Seabar , Our other restaurant and demanded tho the Host that she take care of him and that “Mike A” himself sent him there to make up for his experience. Sherri, my wife and owner of Seabar trying to make the best of a bad situation promptly moved things around seated Hawkins , who once again was a complete Obnoxious jackass to the server. and the staff proceeded to try and provide a good dining experience, all the while Hawkins and his pathetic girlfriend with tears in her eyes berated my restaurants to everyone within earshot. Finally after being called about the situation I arrived at Seabar from the Hotel , just in time to hear how the server should be ashamed and that we owed him money. Immediately I made sure to tell him to get himself and everything else associated with him out of my restaurant, and the spineless tool even admitted he spilled the empty wine which he already had finished and skipped out on a bill. Demanding that he leave immediately he and entourage finally exited. BUT it gets better! After leaving the scumbag gets pulled over by Police , who is aware of the situation and make him call the restaurant and turn over his credit card number to cover our cost. To end the saga , the other couple they were dining with ,so mortified and embarrassed went back to the Lafayette and payed for the wine Mr Hawkins stole, and explained to our management that they wanted no part of such behavior. To them THANK YOU! that was a classy and dignified thing to do and earned a great deal of respect from our staff. Chris Hawkins is really a spineless and crass individual,and stories abound about his horrendous actions and abusive behavior throughout the restaurant industry. Now he is such gutless clown he wont sign is name to false criticism he is slandering all over the internet … I will though- this is the rest of the story. Mike Andrzejewski [sic]
The exact same ’anonymous’ rant was also posted on UrbanSpoon on August 7, 2012 under the moniker of “anonymous1″(first and only post), and also on Yelp under the handle, “C A.”(first and only post). Yelpers refer to (usually anonymous) reviewers with no photo as “Orange Heads”. The UrbanSpoon and Yelp reviews have since been taken down by the site monitors.
I reached out to “C A.” via Yelp’s messaging option. Here is his response and my exchange with him:
I have considered not responding to your note, but feel if I did not, then an accurate accounting of that evening would not take place… I am the victim here…
I would prefer that you not use my full name.
Patrick Maguire: How long have you known Mike?
Chris: I have been eating at his establishments for over 10 years, and spent thousands over the years. This was the first negative experience I have EVER had. I have never met the man other than saying “hello” to him over the years.
PM: Do you have a grudge against him? If yes,why?
Chris: I certainly do not have any grudge against anyone. I was simply disappointed, and I felt that it was my right to say so. The backlash of saying so has been significant.
PM: Do you have a response to his comments ripping you and your actions in his restaurants?
Chris: I do, he is outright lying in his response.
PM: Have you contacted him and apologized?
Chris: My Atty has advised me to have no further contact with him in any way. I have no intention to apologized as I did nothing wrong, other than leaving to avoid conflict.
PM: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Chris: Sure,.. As a foodie, I have ate[sic] at many an establishment, and posted several reviews. In this case, I have learned a lot as a result of my negative experience that evening and the internet post. That review was sincere and accurate from me. His rebuttal however, was not.
One of the things that I have learned, is that businesses can have negative reviews removed from some websites for a cost per word! Where is the literary integrity there?
When posting a negative review about any business, their proprietors take it as a direct personal attack on their livelihood and will do anything to fight back, including LIE. (My review was not meant to be a personal attack.)
In this case, some examples include, 1.) there was no police involvement that evening. (A quick review of the police blotter from that night can prove that).2.) We were not intoxicated at any time, (we had our first drink when we got to the restaurant.) 3.) Almost every other statement he made was either an outright lie or an exaggeration. Mr. A, personally wasn’t involved in any of the interactions, so any accounting he received was after the fact, except when he asked us to leave, which we quietly did, offering to pay for whatever we ate so far, but was met with “Just go”. 4.) I certainly did not spill anywine on myself!
He made a scene in his own restaurant, not us. (Perhaps he could have approached us outside, or asked us to talk privately- instead he blew up in the middle of his own establishment.)
I have always believed that, If you leave someone alone, they will leave you alone. He obviously is interested in some free press and attention, I however am not.
Which is why I posted anonymously.
At this point, I just want to put this to rest and move on.
A Cease and Desist letter has been sent to Mike Andrejewski from my attorney, to stop using my name or any likeness thereof, directly or indirectly through any 3rd party, in any slanderous way, as my Review was not directed at him personally, rather at our negative experience we had at one of his many restaurants.
After the written response from Chris, I called him and left a message, and he called me back right away to confirm that the Yelp message was, in fact, written by him. During that conversation, I told him that everyone would have a fair opportunity to respond to the public comments following this post. After speaking with Chris, he sent me another Yelp message requesting that I state that he is not employed by HSBC, and to add that he is a consultant.
I also called Mike Andrzejewski and sent him a couple of emails seeking clarification from his perspective. Here is my email exchange with Mike:
Patrick Maguire: In retrospect, is there anything you wish you handled differently? (It seems like you should have thrown him out of your steakhouse for being a drunk, obnoxious boor.)
Mike Andrzejewski: I think as a restaurant we did everything possible to make the best of the situation. It’s easy in retrospect to second guess, but at the steakhouse we had no idea he would run out on the check, and then show up at Seabar to try and extort a free meal there. I should have answered my phone earlier when they tried to call , but I was in the kitchen and the staff and my wife at Seabar did their best with a bad situation.
PM: Have you heard from Chris since the incident?
Mike A.: [He] messaged me on facebook with an very untrue explanation of his actions.And several delusional accusations. He also called the restaurant , spoke to my wife Sherri, attempted to apologize and ask that I remove references to his employment. I did not post anything regarding him, his employment or anything else about the incident after my initial response. I also instructed our employees to cease posting anything or even discuss the incident any further.
PM: Have you confirmed that the guy in question was him?
Mike A.: Absolutely confirmed it was him.
PM: Has he apologized?
Mike A.: When he called back with his credit card number he initially told our employee to take the number and tell us to fuck ourselves. Afterwards, when he called the restaurant, he asked us to remove employment references ( Which we did not post) and vaguely attempted to apologize. He was told to apologize to the servers and host whom he mistreated.
PM: Does he have an ax to grind with you? Why?
Mike A.: I don’t think he had a problem with me personally. He does now. I think if you read some of the comment threads which there are a lot of , his behavior has been known around Buffalo and he has a reputation of really being an asshole.
PM: Feel free to add anything you’d like me to include.
Mike A.: I want to make it perfectly clear that any references to Hawkins’ employment or personal issues were made by people following the posts he began, and not posted or sanctioned by anyone at our restaurants, just more literary integrity from the masses. ”The pen is mightier than the sword. “
Also, I need to say that the only regret I have is not finding out more of the police involvement , I have been unable to verify first-hand exactly what happened with the officer, and was told of this by customers coming back into the restaurant as the events were unfolding. I tried very diligently to follow up and get a first-hand and verifiable witness report, but received no contacts or answers from the people (2 separate Groups) who first told us of this happening. Everything prior, we have undeniable and first-hand accounts.
I think the history of our respective reputations speaks for itself. As does the response to the postings put up, literally hundreds of people chimed in with stories of their own about Hawkins, and myself for that matter. If he was so concerned about only voicing an opinion, he certainly did – posting the identical critique on yelp, buffalo rising, urbanspoon and several other sites. As far as paying for removable reviews? Really? and literary integrity, start by signing your work.
I have never responded to an online review previously in a public fashion like this incident, and have, on a couple occasions, contacted reviewers who posted negatively to address and correct the problems they brought to my attention. This was not the case in Hawkins’ situation. His malicious intent warranted a public response in defense of my staff, restaurant and the way he treated them especially my wife , who runs Seabar. There was a time in my life when I would have handled this differently, much differently.
As far as the claim he spent thousands in my establishments is a stretch , to say the least. Maybe a hundred fifty over the last 4 years. And as far as claiming I’m looking for free publicity? Seriously, I get an almost embarrassing amount of attention from the local press, and certainly do not need to drag this kind of bullshit out in public.
My actions in telling him to leave the restaurant , and not asking him to speak privately were directly in response to him screaming at the waitress for giving him a bill , and stating that she owed him money for his troubles. He so embarrassed himself that a number of customers actually applauded and commented as he finally left the restaurant.
Finally, if Mr hawkins wishes to contact attorneys, he can have them approach the “anonymous” people on facebook , Buffalo rising, The buffalo News and other public forums to cease and desist. Since its ok for anyone to post things as they see them why is he complaining? After all, Isn’t that his point when he put his comments up publicly?
I really love the restaurant and service business, I think it’s a pretty noble profession. It angers and hurts me when people degrade it and degrade the people who work so hard at it.
Sincerely, Mike Andrzejewski
#2- What advice/suggestions do you have for amateur, anonymous posters who hide behind their keyboards when writing restaurant reviews?
#3- How about suggestions for amateur reviewers in general, even those who disclose their real names?
#3- What do you think of Mike A’s response on BUFFALO RISING to the comments by Chris?
#4- What advice/suggestions do you have for restaurateurs when it comes to responding publicly to online reviews?
Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation
Thank you to everyone who visited this site to read the last post about the customer who tried to play a little game with one of the servers at our restaurant. There were 10,542 visits to the site within a day and a half after publishing the post.
Thank you also to Patrick Farrell from the Diner’s Journal section of the New York Times, Chris Morran from The Consumerist, Andrea Grimes from Eater National, The Gothamist, Pulse News, and everyone else who shared the post on Facebook and Twitter.
Lastly, thanks to most of the people who commented on the last post. The anonymous, “ihatetipping” person, and a few others, are just plain mean, ignorant, trolling assholes.
So here’s the rest of the story:
I returned to the restaurant, with our general manager, on Monday night to a nearly full restaurant, after distributing food at a neighborhood block party. The servers quickly told us what happened, then got back to work immediately. It was busy. After making a lap through the diningroom, and watering all of the tables, I saw the potential tip money on the table.
I actually had another server tell me a similar story a few years ago, but never saw the 3rd Rock or Cheers episodes that several commenters referenced. It was appalling to believe that someone actually had the nerve to try this charade in real life. As Andrea Grimes at Eater National said, this might be funny on a sitcom, but it ”plays out like a serious dick move in real life.”
My first reaction was; This violates what we stand for, and we need to end it now. Our restaurant actually has a page on our menu called, Law & Order, in which the following two items are included:
- The customer is NOT always right. However, the respectful customer is always right, and the asshole customer is always wrong.
- … Just don’t be a douchebag.
The server who had the douchebag’s table was very busy, and really didn’t have time to think about the implications. Witnessing her anxiety and thinking about how demeaning the ruse was, made me and our GM, Suzie, incensed. Suzie went to the kitchen to check out the status of the couple’s meal, then came up with a brilliant plan: They’ve just finished their appetizers. Let’s take the high road. We’ll wrap up their entrées to-go, comp their entire meal and kick them out. I loved it. The dignity of our server was more important than the profit on the meal.
As it turns out, the couple had ordered a steak frites to split, so Suzie wrapped it up and handed it to me. I approached the table and said, Excuse me sir, may I speak with you outside? He immediately followed me out the door.
When we got outside, I introduced myself as one of the managers/partners of the restaurant, and shook his hand. I explained that I had just returned to the restaurant and learned about the little game he was trying to play with our server, and asked him, Do you realize how insulting, demeaning and disrespectful that is to another human being? He immediately began to appologize profusely, claiming that he was only trying to have a little fun, that he was smiling when he initiated the game, and that he had no malicious intent because he too, was in the restaurant business in New York. Not once did he push back at all, or suggest that I was overreacting. If he had, he would have been gone.
He was so convincing with his apology, that I told him I changed my mind about giving him his meal to go, and that I would allow him to finish his meal at his table. He returned to his table, promptly removed the cash from the table, then had to explain to his date what happened. They were both obviously humiliated. I took over the table so the server wouldn’t have to deal with such an awkward situation.
After taking a few bites of his steak, he stopped me on my way by and said, This is really good, and again, I am SO sorry. In front of his date I said, I hope you understand why I was boiling mad and how disrespectful that was? He said he did, and asked permission to apologize to the server. I asked him to make it brief. Moments later, he approached the server, gave her one of those two-handed handshakes where his left hand covered her right, and pleaded his case.
I’ve never seen two people crush and entrée so quickly. When they were done eating, they stacked their plates (to help), and asked for the check. After fumbling with his cash and the check, I noticed he was attempting to write or scratch something on his check with one of his keys. Apparently he was too embarrassed to ask for a pen.
After shaking my hand for the umpteenth time, he apologizing one final time, then sheepishly left the restaurant.
I quickly examined the cash and check to make sure he didn’t stiff our server. He left $71 on a $50.83 bill, and the note etched onto the bill read, So Sorry.
Part of me still regrets not throwing him out.
Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation
Last night a customer tried to “play a little game” (his words) with one of our servers, where he put twenty dollars on the table and said, “I’ll take one away (from your tip) every time something goes wrong.” I asked to speak with him outside of the restaurant and put an abrupt end to his “game”.
Where the hell do these people come from? Demeaning fellow human beings is never funny or cute. You don’t play games with hard-working people who are just trying to make a living. We need to continue to call these people on their shit, or they will continue to get away with it.
I guarantee you that the guy who came in last night will never try that again, and if the woman he was with ever dates him again, she’s a fool. I believe in the old adage that if you really want to know someone’s true colors, observe how they spontaneously interact with service industry workers.
Have you ever had anything like this ever happen to you or anyone you know?
I’ll provide the details of how my confrontation with the customer ended after reading your comments and recommendations on how you think I should have handled it. (The outcome will surprise you.) Thank you.
Here is how the story ended: http://www.servernotservant.com/2012/07/31/game-over/
Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation
I heard him as soon as I entered the store. He was a well-dressed ‘gentleman’ sitting to my left on the second of four stools facing the sidewalk. He was speaking so loudly into his cell phone, that a few other customers rolled their eyes or shook their heads, resigned to his affront.
Some blog posts take several hours to plan, research and write. Others, like this one, literally almost hit me in the face. I knew this day would come, and I was ready.
After ordering my sandwich at the deli counter in the back of the Groceria, I came back up front to pay the cashier. “Loud guy”(LG) was still yammering away on his cell phone, much to the dismay of everyone in the store. While paying, I muttered, Can you believe this?, to the clerk, who shrugged in agreement, as if to say, I know man, but what can I do?
As I grabbed some napkins just two feet from LG, I pulled out my cell phone and faked an incoming call, loud enough for him to hear me.
Hey Tommy. I’m in a store and can’t talk. I’ll call you in a bit. Loud Guy neither flinched nor took the hint. His volume didn’t drop a decibel, grating on everyone within earshot. The owner and cashier fidgeted behind the counter, but said nothing.
After taking a seat at the small counter on the other side of the entrance, I assessed the situation and worked through my options. I glared at LG in disbelief twice; then shaking my head, I muttered, Quiet, loud enough for the gentleman sitting 2 stools away to respond in agreement, but apparently not loud enough to have any impact on LG.
What made the one-sided conversation even more painful is that LG was haggling with a flower shop employee in a condescending tone.
Sixty-five dollars? Come on, can’t you do the whole thing for me for fifty?, he pleaded.
After agreeing on a price, he proceeded to read off his credit card information over the phone. He interrupted and corrected the flower shop employee twice as the card numbers were read back to him for verification. While he slowly repeated the numbers as if he were speaking to a child, I reached my limit.
I calmly but deliberately turned to LG and said,
Excuse me, out of respect for everyone you’re sharing public space with, could you please lower your volume or take the call outside?
The elderly gentleman sitting 2 stools away from LG immediately looked at me as if to say, Wow. Where did that come from? My ally, sitting near me snapped a look at LG, and blurted, I agree.
The tension in the store broke as the workers and customers all stared at the man as if to say, Seriously. How could you think that was ok?
Loud Guy gave me a patronizing smirk, but immediately reduced his volume to just above a whisper.
Now came the moment of truth. Would the guy finish his call and challenge me? Would he make a snide remark when he left? Surprisingly, he picked up his belongings and left without incident or comment and continued his call on the far side of the sidewalk.
After he left, a bit shaken, I turned to the gentleman sitting next to me and said, Thank you for your support. Most people would sit there seething but put their heads down when someone speaks up. He replied, You’re welcome. I always take my calls outside, in the foyer or in the restroom away from people. It’s all about awareness.
Amen, brother. Amen.
Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation
Opening and operating a successful and profitable restaurant takes an extraordinary amount of hard work. If you’ve never been part of opening a new restaurant, it is a frenetic, frightening and fantastic experience. Everything is in a constant state of flux, and you’re always a phone call or moments away from disaster. (Licensing delays, kitchen meltdowns, delivery issues, construction catastrophes, and inspection issues, to name only a few.)
According to AA Gill, restaurant critic for The Sunday Times, 80% of independent restaurants fail within the first three years. In addition to the daunting odds stacked against them, restaurateurs also contend with an exploding number of amateur, know-it-all, online critics. Many of the entitled posters are anonymous, and naturally they are all experts at running a restaurant…
I’ve been an avid reader of restaurant reviews over the last several years. With sites like Citysearch, Chowhound, Yelp and OpenTable, anyone with internet access can broadcast an opinion to the world with very little effort. Some amateur reviewers do a tremendous job of considering all facets of operating a restaurant when posting their reviews. These folks are extremely thoughtful and fair, even when posting a very negative review. They’ll give a restaurant the benefit of the doubt, especially if the ‘problems’ they cite are not personally offensive, insulting or egregious. (Service issues at a new restaurant for example.) These reviewers have credibility because they care about restaurateur’s reputations and know that livelihoods are at stake.
Unfortunately, there’s a brigade of very irresponsible amateur reviewers who omit critical details when trashing a restaurant. Either they didn’t get their way, didn’t get something for free; or they instigated the problem. I’ve witnessed several exchanges between posters that eventually revealed “the rest of the story,” exonerating the restaurant, only to have the entire thread removed by the moderators of a site. I understand why most of the consumer sites side with the posters, but the credibility of the sites comes into question when moderators censor truths supporting restaurants and their personnel.
Some sites do offer restaurants an opportunity to share their side of the story. However, most have restrictions on how restaurants can respond and limitations on what they can respond to. The reality is that most busy restaurateurs don’t have time to respond to every inaccurate, negative comment made about their establishments. They’re too busy running their crowded restaurants!!
I’m going to discuss this topic at length in my book, but a couple of things happened over the last few weeks that I wanted to share.
I was enjoying dinner at the bar one evening when I heard a customer ask a host the dreaded question, Could I speak with a manager, please? The gentleman who asked for the manager met some resistance from his dining companion, but he remained firm and suggested she wait in the foyer if she didn’t want to hear the conversation. When the manager arrived, the customer looked him in the eye, introduced himself, calmly voiced his concern, and explained why he was leaving without eating dinner. After what looked like a productive conversation, the customer took the manager’s business card and shook his hand again before leaving. A class act.
Of course many customers race home to their keyboards and unmercifully rip restaurants to shreds, without the decency of giving the restaurant the benefit of the doubt, or an opportunity to right a wrong by speaking up when something happens. Great restaurants will do everything they can, within reason, to convert customers from guests to ambassadors. It was refreshing to see a customer step up and do the right thing instead of bombarding the Internet with “Never going back,” or, “Worst night ever,” next to the restaurant’s name. The customer who spoke up to the manager could end up become a loyal regular because he did the right thing.
Lastly, I’ve noticed a trend on facebook lately where more restaurants are posting about bad customer behavior immediately after it happens, before a customer can launch an attack. Here’s an example from one of the best restaurants in Boston that is extremely diligent about the execution of their food and their commitment to hospitality and great service;
Dear table X. We are sorry you needed to make a scene and storm out because we wouldn’t serve drinks to your underage child. No need to hurry back.
Very truly yours,
This preemptive strike is brilliant, and inoculates anyone who might see a negative comment about the restaurant with “the rest of the story.” I recommend more restaurateurs follow suit and remember that the best defense is a good offense!
Interesting side note: According to Wikipedia; AA (Adrian Anthony) Gill was once ejected from one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, along with his dining partner Joan Collins. Ramsay’s reason was that Gill had written a review of his restaurant that covered his personal life more than the food, including calling him a wonderful chef, but a “second-rate human being”.